I was shocked that I was the first person to ‘break’ the story of the Army’s *mandatory* Spiritual Fitness testing, and the equally mandatory remedial training that comes with it when you fail. Hours of remedial Spiritual Fitness training – so that I don’t commit suicide because I’m an atheist.
So is ‘Spiritual Fitness’ about religion?
There are two different and conflicting responses coming from DoD.
- One line paints a rosy picture where “Spiritual” means team spirit or human spirit. This is clearly not the case – not by a long shot. It’s absolutely swimming in religion. You can even visit the Virtual Spiritual Fitness Center which comes from this same effort. This absurd line of reasoning also shows that they know all too well that this is unconstitutional. The word games are a defense mechanism, and a shallow one at that. The term ‘Spiritual Fitness’ originated in Chaplain regulations in 1987, and has been steadily increasing in use ever since.
- The secondary response is completely honest about the Spiritual Fitness concept being firmly rooted in religion. This angle is flaunted without regard to existing laws and prohibitive regulations. This side didn’t ‘get the script’. Neither did the editors at ABC News, notice the stock footage. Notice their contextually accurate use of the word Spirituality. Look at that artwork on the story teaser image – brilliant.
Somehow both of these arguments are actually presented in this report on ABC News. The journalist doesn’t seem to notice the enormous conflict, and the back-peddling. He’s too wrapped up in telling the story to notice that he’s missed the story.
ABC News: Why is it that Spiritual people make better soldiers?
MG Cornum: The ethos that we adhere to: Always place the mission first. Never accept defeat. Never leave a fallen comrade – Those kinds of things require you to have a belief in something higher than yourself.
I’m afraid I’ll have to avoid directly replying to her statement in this venue, but I have so much that I want to say. At one point, I was scheduled to shoot an interview for this piece as well. Things got weird locally (long, complex story). Luckily, my friend and fellow foxhole atheist SGT Dustin Chalker was able to get on board.
Unfortunately, they only used a tiny portion of his interview. But it was good to see such a well-spoken foxhole atheist get a word in. He wanted me to pass this along for context:
You might want to work this in to give some context to my quote:
“…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”
-US Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3
And he’s right. That’s almost all you need! We (almost) don’t even need to mention the First Amendment. This is the main body of the original Constitution.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation reached out to me and has secured pro bono legal representation from a world class international law firm. I’m grateful to Mikey Weinstein (MRFF President / Founder) for tirelessly championing the separation of church and state. 96% of MRFF clients are actually Christians who tend to feel that they are being told they are ‘the wrong type of Christian’. Most of their 20,000 clients have stories that you simply will never know about. In most situations the pressure from MRFF is so strong that a sudden resolution preempts the need for litigation.
Swear to tell the truth, so help you god? (Pro-tip: No.)
I’ve also struggled with an officer who wouldn’t even take my testimony without a huge hassle.
Superior: “Do you, Justin Griffith… swear to tell the truth so help you god?”
Justin Griffith: “No. I don’t believe in god, sir.”
Superior: “In that case you don’t have to swear. Rather you can affirm. Would you like to affirm?”
Justin Griffith: “Yes sir.”
Superior: “Do you, Justin Griffith… affirm that your statements are true so help you god?”
Justin Griffith: “No. I don’t believe in god, sir.”
Superior: “We have to get through this, Sergeant Griffith.”
Justin Griffith: “Well, sir – I think you should leave off that bit at the end, then.”
Superior: “That’s not an option that I’m aware of. I think we should just get it over with.”
I nodded, and looked him directly in the eye:
Superior: “Do you, Justin Griffith… affirm that your statements are true-“
Justin Griffith: “YES SIR!” (interjecting at exactly the right moment).
This caught him off guard. He let out a nervous smile and then gave up with the ‘so help me god’. I gave my testimony, and deployed the next week. And these things that I mention are minor footnotes in the real story. We’re working on it, and we refuse to go back into the closet.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
I really enjoy working with Chaplains to shatter barriers and normalize the foxhole atheist community. But legal battles like this make progressive theists nervous about working with me. They also get nervous about appearing in photographs with me or simply being mentioned on this website.
It’s very hard to write about the wonderful things that I’ve been working with Chaplains on. But I assure you, it is happening here and there. The mandatory Spiritual Fitness testing and training aside, things are changing.
“We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” Or apparently, both.